How to Make Cold Brew Coffee

What's Unique About Cold Brew Coffee?

Cold brew coffee is more popular than ever, and for good reason.  Long, slow steeping in cool water creates some very distinct qualities that keep coffee lovers coming back for more, including:

• Smooth, less-acidic taste
• Higher caffeine content than hot-brewed coffee
• Concentrated flavor, so it doesn’t taste diluted when you add water, milk, ice, etc.
• Natural sweetness
• Keeps up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator

Although it’s often confused with ‘iced coffee’, the two are very different​:

Cold brew coffee = Gound coffee > steeped in cool water for a long time > strained > diluted with water, milk, etc.

Iced coffee = Ground coffee > brewed (usually filtered) with hot water for a short time > served over ice 

There is a lower acid content because the coffee is not in contact with very hot water, which accounts for the smoothness and sweetness. And the higher bean-to-water ratio and long brewing time give cold brew significantly more caffeine content than regular coffee.

So for a sweeter, smoother, higher-octane joe, give cold brew a try.

The Best Coffee for Cold Brew

If you’re new to cold brewing, one of your first questions will be what type of coffee to use.  

Beans
Any coffee beans will work. The bottom line here is personal taste.
Roast

Many people favor using darker roasts for cold brew, but this is also a matter of taste.  

Grind

The grind should be as coarse as possible. Think the size of breadcrumbs.  Finer grinds tend to add cloudiness and bitterness to the finished cold brew.  

  • Start with coffees that are darker roasts and work toward lighter roasts. Cold brewing mutes some of the more subtle flavors (such as floral and fruity) found in light roasted beans.
  • Try beans you already like, or even ones you didn't. Got some leftover beans that you tried with hot brewing but didn't like? The same coffee will taste differently depending on the brewing temperature, because hot water extracts certain flavors from the bean that are not extracted as fully by cool water.
  • Buy less expensive beans until you have an idea of what you favor using this brew method.
  • Use older beans, up to a few weeks after the roast date. Because cold brewing does not extract all the flavor from the beans anyway, they do not need to be super fresh.

Getting the Grind Right

We can’t say often enough how important the grind is to the flavor of your coffee.  And this is no less true for Cold Brewing.

Coarse Grind Size

Since you’ll be letting the cold brew steep for up to 24 hours, the grind needs to be very coarse so there is not too much extraction, leading to bitterness and cloudiness. “Coarse” here means roughly the size of breadcrumbs or steel cut oats.  

Even Particle Size

Consistent particle size contributes to better flavor. When coffee grounds contain a mix of uneven sizes, some will extract more than others during steeping, which tends to cause unwanted bitterness.  

Freshly Ground ... or Not

Take advantage of the fact that cold brewing does not require very fresh coffee to produce good results. It’s a great way to use beans that are no longer optimal for hot brewing.

A Word About Grinders

Option 1:  *Recommended* A good burr grinder (electric or manual) is hands down the best way to get coarse, even, freshly ground coffee. It’s not hard to grind the beans yourself, and it will do wonders for your coffee flavor.

Option 2:  A blade grinder can be used with decent results if you follow a few simple rules of thumb.

Measuring the Coffee and Water

Cold brewing by nature is more forgiving than other brewing methods.  Suggestions on the ratio of coffee-to-water vary greatly, with some recipes calling for twice the amount of beans as others.  Start with the following ratios and adjust to taste.

For a quick, easy way to measure.

Whole Coffee BeansWater
1 cup4 cups (32 oz., 1 liter)

If you’d rather be more exact.

Whole Coffee Beans Water
1 lb coffee (16 oz., 454 g) 1 Gallon (128 oz., 3840 ml)
1/2 lb. coffee (8 oz., 226 g) 1/2 Gallon (64 oz., 1920 ml)
1/4 lb. coffee (4 oz., 113 g) 1 quart (32 oz., 960 ml)
1/8 lb. coffee (2 oz., 57 g) 2 Cups (16 oz., 480 ml)

Step-By-Step Cold Brew Recipe

OK, let’s get started.  When you finish these instructions, you’ll have a batch of your very own cold brew concentrate.

What You’ll Need

  • Whole coffee beans
  • Good quality water (preferably filtered)
  • The other items you’ll need depend on the method you use.  See each description below.

Using a Bowl, Jar or Other Container

Since making cold brew coffee is really as simple as soaking ground coffee in water, you have lots of options of how to make that happen. Just about any container that is large enough to hold as much as you want to brew will work … glass, plastic or stainless steel.  Think of anything from a mason jar to a mixing bowl.

Step 1.  Measure water and pour into the container.
Step 2.  Measure and grind beans.
Step 3.  Pour the grounds into the water and stir gently until they are thoroughly wet.
Step 4.  Cover with a lid, cheesecloth, kitchen towel, etc.
Step 5.  Let sit for 12-24 hours at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
Step 6.  Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth or a coffee filter.
Step 7.  Pour the concentrate through the lined strainer into another container.
Step 8.  Store the filtered concentrate in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Using a French Press

If you already have a french press in your kitchen, it will do a good job doubling as a cold brewer.

Step 1.  Measure water and pour into the french press.
Step 2.  Measure and grind beans.
Step 3.  Pour the grounds into the water and stir gently until they are thoroughly wet.
Step 4.  Put the lid on with the plunger pulled all the way out.
Step 5.  Let sit for 12-24 hours at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
Step 6.  Slowly depress the plunger to trap the grounds at the bottom.
Step 7.  Pour the filtered concentrate into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.

Using a Cold Brew Coffee Maker

Cold brew coffee makers do make the process more convenient. Some have a filter that the beans stay in while brewing.  In other models, the beans steep freely in the water and then pass through a filter after brewing.  And most are designed as a carafe that can store the concentrate when its finished.

Step 1.  Pour the desired amount of water into the maker.
Step 2.  Measure and grind beans.
Step 3.  Place the beans in the appropriate area of the brewer.
Step 4.  Let sit for 12-24 hours at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
Step 5.  Remove the filter containing the beans, or release the coffee to pass through a filter into the carafe.
Step 6.  Store the concentrate in the refrigerator with the lid on.

Pro Tips

  • Water should be room temperature or cooler.
  • Cold brew concentrate lasts for about two weeks in the refrigerator, but the flavor begins to degrade after about a week.  If you have diluted the concentrate, it will be good for a few days.
  • Stir the grounds periodically during steeping.  This is not absolutely necessary, but can help the extraction along.
  • Water quality matters, so at minimum be sure it is filtered.

Drinking Cold Brew Coffee

What you have when your brewing is done is a coffee concentrate, and is not meant to be drunk without being diluted.  So if you make 1/2 gallon of cold brew, you’ll have enough for about a gallon of finished drinks!

  • Dilute the concentrate with an equal portion of water, milk, cream, ice, etc.
  • You can drink it warm by adding hot water, and it will retain its smooth, sweet taste.
  • Try an alternate milk in place of cow’s milk, such as:  almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, macadamia milk, etc.
  • Add interesting flavors, such as:  simple syrup, coconut water, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, honey, chocolate syrup, etc.
  • For some great drink ideas and more, download the free Toddy book of cold-brewed recipes.